LIPSTICK & HIV/AIDS prevention

LIPSTICK & HIV/AIDS prevention

Globally, experts agree that gender equality is critical to effective HIV prevention. However, despite some pockets of success, efforts to advance gender equality in the context of HIV prevention have been hindered by a range of factors. Then enters a cosmetics house, and a unique project gets on the road. KATHLEN PITHOUSE-MORGAN and VASU REDDY et al. tell us more. 
  Constance Mamogobo (right), a MAFLI Fellow from Cohort 1, is managing director of the Makhudu-
thamaga Umbrella, which assists emerging NGOs working in 150 villages in Limpopo. Through her HIV
prevention plan, Mamogobo uses existing family-oriented values in the rural South African context to
promote HIV prevention among women, girls and boys.

Ineffectual leadership, lack of community ownership of top-down interventions, and widespread reluctance to openly discuss matters of gender and sexuality are some of the factors hindering HIV prevention efforts. Research shows that there is no quick fix for these problems and that there is no single best intervention that suits all contexts and communities.

The lipstick connection


In a new approach to tackle these complex issues, the MAC AIDS Fund, established by MAC Cosmetics in 1994, raised over US$ 135 million with a new product called ‘Viva Glam’ lipstick. All profits of the lipstick go into the Fund, which supports people affected by HIV and AIDS.


From this grew the MAC AIDS Fund Leadership Initiative (MAFLI) – a one-year fellowship designed to respond to the complex challenges of promoting gender equality in the context of HIV prevention in South Africa. This unique and pioneering programme is underpinned by the vision to build the capacity of emergent leaders to support and sustain HIV prevention efforts throughout the country, at the same time as advancing gender equality.


The Initiative was launched in April 2007 in collaboration with the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioural Studies (Columbia University, New York City) and the UCLA Programme in Global Health (University of California, Los Angeles). In January 2009, the HSRC joined the programme as the South African partner.


The fellowship provides training, support and pilot funding for participants to develop and implement context-appropriate HIV prevention projects in their communities and organisations.


Four cohorts of fellows (46 in all) have so far completed the programme. Fellows are based in a variety of urban and rural locations across South Africa and come from various disciplines and fields, including education, psychology, social work and medicine.


Hard work is not always glamorous


For the first two months of the programme, the MAFLI fellows were immersed in a daily, intensive, in-residence training. For cohorts 1 and 2, the bulk of this training was completed at the HIV Center in New York City, while the training of cohorts 3 and 4 took place in South Africa, under the direction of the HSRC and UCLA.


The training aims to expand the fellows’ knowledge of HIV and AIDS research, policy and programming, as well as to provide comprehensive, evidence-based information on HIV transmission and prevention, focusing on the links between gender inequality and the spread of HIV.


The training aims to expand the fellows’ knowledge of HIV and AIDS research, policy and programming, as well as to provide comprehensive, evidence-based information on HIV transmission and prevention, focusing on the links between gender inequality and the spread of HIV. It also aims to develop leadership skills, promote gender empowerment and advocacy, and provide skill-building in designing, implementing and sustaining HIV prevention programmes. Additionally, the training provides opportunities for fellows to network with local leaders, advocates, media and service providers in the field of HIV prevention, as well as with previous cohorts of MAFLI Fellows.


The training is led by MAFLI programme staff from the HSRC, UCLA and Columbia University. A range of other expert speakers and trainers also participate. A key outcome of the training is that, under the guidance of MAFLI programme staff, each fellow designs a unique HIV prevention plan with concrete goals, objectives and evaluation components. At the conclusion of the two-month training period, the programme provides pilot funding for fellows to carry out their HIV prevention plans. Fellows receive ten months of mentorship, advice, and feedback to support the successful implementation of the prevention plan.


The Fellows

Fellows from the first two cohorts have implemented a range of innovative, context-responsive HIV prevention plans. Fellows from cohorts 3 and 4 are at various stages in the implementation of their prevention plans. The prevention plans of the MAFLI Fellows are available on the MAFLI website (

Based on the encouraging preliminary findings from an independent impact evaluation of the MAFLI programme commissioned by Columbia University, the MAC AIDS Fund provided funding to HIVOS-South Africa, a local NGO specialising in community development. The funding supports the scale-up and expansion of selected plans of MAFLI fellows. Thus far, five fellows from cohorts 1 and 2 have been selected for scale-up support, which is a key indicator of the lasting impact of the MAFLI programme at the community level. An additional round of scale-up funding will be made available in early 2011.


In February 2011, Columbia University, UCLA and the HSRC will bring together all fellows for a Capstone Conference to profile their HIV prevention work, with the possibility of identifying those plans that might be supported by future funding. In addition to providing an opportunity for fellows to network amongst themselves and with MAFLI programme staff, expert speakers and technical advisors to the MAFLI programme will be in attendance to interact with and learn about the fellows’ programmes and plans. Poster sessions and thematic discussions will allow for a focused review of the fellows work while technical updates and a panel on leadership will reinforce the skills gained through their MAFLI experience.


Dr Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan, former senior research specialist, HSRC, now with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Professor Vasu Reddy, chief research specialist, Human and Social Development, HSRC.


CONTRIBUTORS: Professor Relebohile Moletsane, a former research director, HSRC, now with the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Lisa Wiebesiek, MAFLI coordinator, Human and Social Development, HSRC; Professor Raymond A. Smith, director of communications, HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioural Studies, New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, New York City; Professor Diane di Mauro, programme director, MAC AIDS Fund Leadership Initiative, HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioural Studies, Columbia University; Laurie Bruns, the Africa regional co-director, UCLA Programme in Global Public Health; and Mushambi Mutuma, programme coordinator (Africa), UCLA Programme in Global Health.